Having never backpacked through Europe before, I decided to put my own spin on “backpacking” by embarking upon the ultimate LA road trip – a four day, three night, brewery extravaganza, hitting nine breweries in nine cities. Yippee!!!
Firestone Walker (Paso Robles): At the halfway point between Oakland and Los Angeles, we kicked things off at the Firestone Walker “compound” right off the 101. This place feels huge and corporate, but also tastefully done. We grabbed lunch and a flight in their taproom, which features a large square bar, main restaurant, and mini gift shop. To add to the cool industrial feel, there’s a bottling production replica machine overlooking the bar area. The taproom is stocked with many of Firestone’s signature beers (love me some Wookey Jack and Velvet Merlin), but if you’re looking for something a bit more rare, I’d head to the tasting room. There, in the middle of one of the three Firestone gift shops on the compound, we sampled the boozy Stickee Monkee (a 13.4% ABV Belgian quad) and the Velvet Mocha Merlin (a 5.5% ABV coffee oatmeal stout). I’d also recommend checking out their main store, which features a walk-in fridge of beers. Bring a jacket!
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company (Buellton): Next, we headed down the road a 100 miles to what the locals call “Fig Mountain,” or if you want to be a real insider, “FigMo.” With a handful of GABF award-winning beers, FigMo was definitely one of my favorite stops of the weekend. Laid back, unpretentious, and beer-focused, this place has some amazing brews such as the Davey’s Brown Ale, The Stagecoach Stout, and the Lizard’s Breath IIPA. According to one of the bartenders at Firestone, many of the Firestone brewers are now with FigMo. They bottle a lot of what they brew, so it’s a great place to pick up a flight or two, figure out what you like, and take some to go.
Beachwood Brewing BBQ (Long Beach): The next day we grabbed lunch at Beachwood BBQ in downtown Long Beach. I can see why GABF has named Beachwood the best “large” brewpub in the nation for the past two consecutive years. Amazing brews combined with artisan food makes this a great place for any meal. I loved the retro beach vibe it had going for it as well. The GABF award-winning Udder Love milk stout and the drizzled duck gravy Tater Tot Casserole are a must! In addition to all their brews, they feature about 10-15 guest tap handles. It’s a beer and food lover’s delight.
The Bruery (Placentia): From there, we headed 30-minutes east to The Bruery to check out some barrel-aged, sour, and Belgian brews. Considering my love for stouts and IPAs, I knew this place would be a bit outside my comfort zone. Sterile yet swanky, it felt more like a wine bar than a brewery. You pick up a pencil and select five beers from a list of 30 to build your flight. Most options are high ABV with a handful of 10%+ on the menu. I tried to expand my stouty, IPA palate, and left liking one of my five - the Courvateur, a chocolate dubbel. I know a lot of people are into sours and barrel-aged brews. If so, this is the place for you. If you’re more into the traditional styles like myself, you could probably skip this stop.
Noble Aleworks (Anaheim): After taking a quick nap (I needed one after a few sips of The Bruery’s bourbon barrel-aged blueberry stout), we headed to Anaheim to visit Noble Aleworks. This place is awesome! It’s in the middle of the industrial area, right by Angel Stadium/Toyota Center. The Ducks happened to be playing that night, and there seemed to be quite a few fans in this open warehouse space. The overall vibe was my kind of spot – people of all ages, a large projection screen for sports (LOVE it when breweries aren’t anti-TVs), and a variation of 90’s hip hop and The XX rotating in the background. Plus, they offer a couple of different IPAs and a variety of stouts. I left loving the Cinnamon Roast Crunch, a golden style stout with a cinnamon swirl. This is a play off their popular golden stout, Naughty Sauce. MmmMmm, good!
Bootlegger’s Brewery (Fullerton): After Noble, we headed a couple of exits off the freeway to Bootlegger’s for what felt like a college frat party (apparently, CSU Fullerton is down the street). At this point, we were tired and surrounded by a lot of drunk kids. I was there to sample the Chocolate Mint Porter, which lived up to my expectations. Featuring an awesome outdoor space of picnic tables, white lights, and cornhole, this place has a lot of potential. The inside tasting room (aka the garage), on the other hand, was filled with dated poinsettias, old arcade games, and beat-up outdoor chairs. I couldn’t tell if it had the charm of an Urban Outfitters decorated theme, or if it was more like somebody rolled up their garage from the 80’s and decided to open a brewery. Don’t get me wrong, the beer is solid (see earlier post on Bootlegger’s Black Phoenix), but the tasting room felt more like “let’s all get wasted!!!” rather than a place to sit and sample their GABF-winning Rocco Red. But, hey, maybe we were just there on the wrong night, and/or not their target age demographic.
Golden Road (Glendale): The next day we hit up Golden Road to experience a “big” brewery scene in LA. Right by the Glendale train tracks adjacent to the dump, this place appeals to the masses. Indoor and outdoor bar with pub food floating around, this place attracts families, beer lovers, and average Joes looking to enjoy a typically sunny SoCal day. I was particularly fond of the indoor/outdoor space – a covered fake grass area that felt like you were on the inside of a large shed with a 100 other people. From the outdoor bar, you could overlook the lawnball area as well as the kiddie area filled with cornhole, beer bellied dads, and playing blocks. If you are into IPAs, this is a great stop. The Wolf Pup IPA, a session variation of Golden Road’s popular Wolf Among Weeds double IPA, was my fave.
Eagle Rock Brewery (Los Angeles): After a full day at Golden Road, we headed to Eagle Rock Brewery to taste some, as they call it, “beer for the people.” Just a couple of miles away, the place was a completely different scene. Small and a bit dark, it felt like a brewery version of a speakeasy. Aside from their branded mini-semi truck sitting in the driveway, there was very little signage. Not the kind of space you’d want to spend a whole day hanging out, Eagle Rock is a fun place to start the night or meet up with an old friend. For a brewery, it felt kind of cozy – I’d chalk it up to the organgeish lighting and the handful of beers on tap. The Stimulus, a Belgian amber brewed with Intelligius coffee, is by far my favorite of theirs. This is an incredibly unique beer and makes the stop worthwhile.
Tap-It (San Luis Obispo): On our way back to the Bay the next day, we stopped at Tap-It for a sando and a beer. About three miles off the 101, this brewery is tucked away in an industrial office area. Tastefully done, Tap-It feels a bit like a biker bar (perhaps the Harley Davidson-branded colors), but also has a fabulous indoor/outdoor space. While sitting at the indoor bar, we were hit with 70 degrees of sunshine from the open roll-up door. We had a great view of the outdoor space, which was decorated with fire pits, lounge areas, and cornhole – a cool place to hang out day or night. I sampled their IPA, amber, and stout. Nothing left me super excited, but all and all, it was a great pit stop headed home.
Our “backpacking” adventure was a blast. All nine breweries brought something unique, but I’d have to say my favorite stops were Firestone Walker, FigMo, Beachwood, and Noble Aleworks. I love tasting beer, but tasting beer where it’s made, soaking up the brewery’s story, is so much better!!!
Folks, we have six, action-packed days left of SF Beer Week. Where will you be? Here are my top events in Oakland and SF over the next few days. Saturday is a doozy!
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 10TH
Evening with Allagash Brewery (Pi Bar, SF): Pizza with Maine’s Allagash’s Belgian beers.
Sensory Panel with Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi (Linden Street, Oakland): Opportunity to hang and learn from Ninkasi's founding brewer Jamie Floyd. http://thedockoakland.brownpapertickets.com/
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH
Henhouse Tap Takeover (Lost and Found, Oakland): The salty Oyster Stout and the tart Honest Day’s Pay in a trendy beer garden. Enough said. https://www.facebook.com/LostANDFound510
Brewer’s Symposium – The Business of Beer (Ale Industries, Oakland): Ale Industries’ founder, Morgan Cox, is teaming up with seven other members of the Bay Area craft beer industry to discuss the business of beer. https://www.facebook.com/events/1548250082126887/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 12TH
Beachwood and Faction Brewing Beer-B-Q Extravaganza (The Good Hop, Oakland): Eight beers from GABF's Large Brewpub of the Year winner, Beachwood Brewing & BBQ, and eight beers from Alameda's Faction. Fingers crossed for some of Beachwood's Udder Love! https://www.facebook.com/events/804609659593018/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming
A Night of Two Gypsies: Stillwater and Evil Twin Brewing (Amsterdam Café, San Francisco): Evil Twin’s Lil’ B, imperial porter, will be on tap. Yum! https://www.facebook.com/events/580479502085822/?ref=3&ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 13TH
Dogfish Head Total Tap Takeover w/ 120 Minute IPA: (The Willows, San Francisco): Rare Dogfish Head 18%+ brews such as 120 Minute IPA, World Wide Stout, Raison D’Extra will be on tap. Get there early!
Los Angeles Takeover (Diving Dog Brewhouse, Oakland): Featuring some legit LA breweries - Eagle Rock, Cismontane, El Segundo Brewing Company, Golden Road, and Ladyface Ale Companies. https://www.facebook.com/events/996711677024686/
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14TH
Valentine’s Brunch with Modern Times Brewing (Social Kitchen, San Francisco): Brunch with one of San Diego’s hottest new breweries that doesn’t distribute to NorCal…yet. www.socialkitchenandbrewery.com
"Drink the Darkness" A Stout/Porter Fest (Monk’s Kettle, San Francisco): 20 special stouts and porters on draft, including several vintage beers such as 2010 Abyss, 2011 Parabola, 2010 World Wide Stout and 2013 BOMB!. www.monkskettle.com
Ballast Point Brewing featuring Super Rare Specialties!!!!: (Beer Revolution, Oakland): 31 beers from another San Diego favorite, Ballast Point. I need to get my hands on that Peanut Butter Victory at Sea! www.beer-revolution.com
Japanese Beer Fest (The Trappist, Oakland): Japanese beer at a Belgian bar? Interesting. I’m guessing Sapporo won’t be there. www.thetrappist.com
St. Valentine’s Beer Feast with Allagash and New Belgium (La Trappe Cafe, San Francisco): Fancy ($65) dinner with Belgian beers and food from chef Brandon Korf.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH
Beer Judging 101: Introduction to Beer Styles & Judging (Pyramind, Berkeley): Some much needed education on the last day of Beer Week. https://beerjudging101-sf2015.eventbrite.com
Maui Brewing Luau (The Dark Horse Inn, San Francisco): Hawaiian-inspired menu with Maui Brewing cans. I’m hoping this is my trip to the beach after all this beer drinking! ttps://www.facebook.com/DarkHorseSF/events